The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner
The Book in Three Sentences
Experiencing impatience is one of the first symptoms of not being in the present moment, not doing what you are doing, and not staying process-oriented. Become a good observer of your own actions: instead of focusing on an abstract end goal—which adds a lot of undue pressure—focus on the process, observe how you do, and make a corrective action. Understand that perfection is relative, and everything that you spiritually acquire expands your true self and becomes part of you forever.
Notes on the Book
This is a relatively short book at about 140 pages in length. It’s nicely typeset, easy to read, and light to hold. If you’re not particularly sporty, you may be turned off by some of the sporting practice references, but they’re merely for illustrative purposes and do not overwhelm the message or the book. Thomas M. Sterner also talks about the practice of tuning pianos as much as he does about practicing golf.
Favourite Passages and Quotes
“I was beginning to understand that all of life is practice, in one form or another. ...I mistakenly associated the word practice only with art forms such as music, dance, and painting. I did not see dealing with a cranky child, an overburdened work schedule, or a tight monthly budget as actions that required applying the same principles.” (pp2)
“Without an understanding of proper practice mechanics, and without an awareness of our inner workings, we’re almost certain to use up the initial inspiration and motivation that propelled us into our endeavour… this mindset influences everything. It is the blank page on which we draw our lives. It determines not only what we draw, but also what we are able to draw.” (pp6-7)
“So few people are really aware of their thoughts. Their minds run all over the place without their permission, and they go along for the ride unknowingly and without making a choice. Instead of observing their thoughts and using their thoughts to serve themselves, they are in their thoughts.” (pp9)
“When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be… However, when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.” (pp23)
Keep reviewing idea so that you can “hang on to their clarity and perspective. Otherwise, life steals them away. Constantly reviewing new ideas, creates, in a sense, a new habit of perceiving and processing our lives, a habit that brings us the sense of clarity we long for every day.” (pp76)
When you are first learning something, it takes all you focus and your mind is empty. It's harder to concentrate as you advance in skill level, but try to maintain a Beginners Mind. (pp52)
The Essence of Proper Practice
Judgement redirects and wastes our energy. One could argue that we must judge the outcome of each attempt to make a decision about how to proceed, but this is not true. Judgement brings a sense of right or wrong, good or bad with it.
Instead, you should be objectively observing and analyzing the outcome of each attempt. This technique of observation serves only to direct your next effort. By using this way of thinking to approach a new activity, you are more patient with ourselves and not in a hurry to get to some predetermined point. Your goal should be to stay in this process and direct your energy into whatever activity you are doing in the present. This way, every second you achieve this, you fulfill your goal. In this approach the process brings inner peace and a sense of mastery and self confidence. (pp27)
“Experiencing impatience is one of the first symptoms of not being in the present moment, not doing what you are doing, and not staying process-oriented.” (pp78)
(1) The first step towards patience is to become aware of when your internal dialogue is running wild and dragging you with it. (pp79)
(2) The second step in creating patience is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything. What you perceive as perfect is always relative to where you are in any area of your life.
“Consider a sailor trying to reach the horizon. It is unreachable. If the sailor sees the horizon as the point he must reach to achieve happiness, he is destined to experience eternal frustration. He works all day at running the boat, navigating, trimming the sails, and yet by nightfall he is no closer to the horizon that he was at dawn’s first light. The only evidence he has of forward motion is the wake left behind the boat. Unseen to him are the vast distances he is really travelling just by keeping the wind in the sails and applying the moment-by-moment effort of running the ship.” (pp80)
“Everything that you spiritually acquire expands your true self and becomes part of you forever.” (pp137)
Four ‘S’ Words
These are: simplify, small, short, slow. (pp95–97)
Break a task down into components or smaller sections.
Develop a perspective change that affords you more patience. Use small tasks that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration.
Set a time limit that is short but realistic, and end the task when the time is up.
Work slow enough that you are aware of what you are doing and you will increase both your focus and productivity (despite how slow you may feel you are moving).
The “DOC” Method
Do / Observe / Correct (pp114)
Become a good observer of your own actions. Focus on the process and be objective throughout the process. Instead of focusing on winning or some abstract goal—which adds a lot of undue pressure—do what you’re trying to, observe how it went, make a corrective action, and re-try. Focus on the process; not the outcome.
“When you find yourself falling back into fretting, start the cycle again. Just do, observe, correct… no negative emotions or judgements. It’s tiring at first. Remember, you are breaking an unwanted habit in how you deal with problems.” (pp116)